Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.


© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.


Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took just under 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”


Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Detainees sit next to an anti-drug mural of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte inside the Manila City Jail, October 16, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The Philippine government is one step closer to prosecuting young children as adults, a key plank in President Rodrigo Duterte’s abuse-ridden anti-crime campaign.

On Monday, a congressional committee approved a bill that would lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9. If the Senate makes good on its promise to pass this version, and it’s signed into law by the president, this would no doubt worsen the plight of Filipino children caught up in the justice system.

Proponents of the bill argue that children would be better protected from criminals who are trying to exploit them. But the law’s impact would be punitive: children from 14 to 9 who commit serious crimes such as murder, illegal detention, or “carnapping,” or violate the country’s draconian drug laws can be sentenced to “mandatory confinement” of up to 12 years.

The national Commission on Human Rights denounced the bill, saying that “punishing children for the crime and abuse of syndicates and other people is against the state’s responsibility to look after the interests and welfare of children.” The Philippines representative of the United Nations children’s organization, Unicef, cited neuroscientific research that shows that the brain is still developing into the mid-20s, including the ability to inhibit impulses, weigh consequences of decisions, prioritize, and strategize.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Philippines has ratified, the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of children should only be used as a last resort, and rehabilitation is a priority. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors government compliance with the convention, states in its draft general comment on juvenile justice that the age of criminal responsibility should be at least 14 years, and should under no circumstances be reduced below that.

Children in the Philippines have already been subjected to the extreme violence of Duterte’s “drug war,” with the police and government agents killing dozens during anti-drug operations as suspected drug users or for being pawns of drug dealers. The proposed law will not only stigmatize children even more – it turns them into scapegoats in the government’s abusive anti-crime campaign.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We, the undersigned refugee and human rights organizations in Thailand, welcome today’s commitment by the Government of Thailand to stop detaining migrant and refugee children. This commendable step brings Thailand closer to international standards for the treatment of refugee and migrant children and recognizes their fundamental rights under international law.

We urge the authorities to immediately release all refugees arbitrarily detained in Thailand and fully protect the rights of refugees and children, including by reuniting separated families and prioritizing the best interests of the child.

Today, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, representatives of the Royal Thai Police, the Ministries of Social Development and Human Security, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Health, Education, and Labour signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centers. The MoU acknowledges that children should only be detained as a measure of last resort and any detention period should be as brief as possible. The MoU prioritizes the best interests of the child, and affirms government responsibility to ensure children remain under their family’s care. Children should only be transferred into privately-run shelters or government custody as a measure of last resort. The government is in the process of adopting detailed procedures to implement these provisions. 

The MoU reflects a first step towards ending the immigration detention of children, but further efforts are necessary to protect the best interests of the child and to bring Thai policy and practice in line with basic international standards. The MoU fails to address family separation, and migrant mothers are only granted release from immigration detention following a cash bail payment of 50,000 Thai Baht (US$1,500) to reunite with children in holding shelters. The bail rate is exorbitant for most migrants and, particularly, refugees, who are prohibited from working in Thailand. Furthermore, the bail provision does not extend to fathers of migrant and refugee children, undermining the rights of a child to family life as enshrined in international law and best-interest practices. Bail is further restricted to mothers with children who are also in immigration custody.

Thai authorities continue to conduct immigration raids that result in the arrest and arbitrary detention of children and refugees. Since October 2018, immigration enforcement operations have continued to take place throughout Bangkok and other cities across Thailand. Thai authorities have arrested hundreds of refugees recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), including children. These arrests violate international legal norms regarding the protection of refugees and undermine the government’s stated commitments to respect basic human rights.

We note with alarm that children remain detained at Bangkok’s Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center. Thailand is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the arbitrary or unlawful detention of a child. The CRC allows for the separation of a child from his or her parents against their will solely in cases where “competent authorities subject to judicial review determine . . . that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.” Article 22 of Thailand’s Child Protection Act of 2003 requires the best interest of the child to be given primary importance when considering the treatment of a child. The continued arrest and detention of refugees has not demonstrated adherence to Thailand’s commitments under international law.

Although Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, the Thai government has repeatedly expressed a commitment to protect refugees in Thailand, including by adopting the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and endorsing the  Global Compact on Refugees during the UN General Assembly in December 2018. The Thai government also affirmed a commitment to “humanitarianism and to take care of various groups of irregular migrants” during the UN Human Rights Committee review of Thailand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in March 2017. On January 10, 2017, the government also adopted a cabinet resolution to develop a legal framework to identify and recognize refugees. However, at present, the Thai government has yet to enact legislative measures to advance this resolution.

Despite the commitments made by the government, Thai law still fails to recognize or provide protection for refugees, and all migrants found in Thailand without permission are subject to imprisonment and a fine in addition to deportation. In the case of refugees, this is in violation of non-penalization protections underscored in international law and basic protections underscored in multiple human rights covenants.

We urge the Thai government to:

  • End the detention of all refugees held solely on the basis of their immigration status.
  • Ensure that migrants are never arbitrarily detained, and migrants are only detained in exceptional circumstances following an individualized assessment and after the exhaustion of all alternatives to detention in line with international law.
  • Undertake meaningful, formal consultations with groups representing refugees, other civil society organizations, and refugees where possible to develop a legal framework to recognize and protect refugees in line with international standards and ensure the right to work so that they have a proper standard of living while awaiting resettlement or repatriation.
  • Withdraw the reservation to Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which addresses the proper protection of refugee children.
  • Accede to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and the Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.


  1. Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN)
  2. Asylum Access Thailand (AAT)
  3. Center for Asylum Protection, (CAP)
  4. Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP)
  5. Fortify Rights
  6. Human Rights Watch
  7. Migrant Working Group (MWG)
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activists hold a candle light vigil for victims of the extra judicial killings in the drug war of the government in front of a church in Manila on September 16, 2016.

© 2016 TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images
(New York) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration heightened its repression in 2018, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

The government’s murderous “war on drugs” expanded to cities outside Manila. Attacks escalated against activists, journalists, and critics of the government. Donor governments should intensify pressure on Duterte to end targeted killings and to drop politically motivated criminal cases.

“President Duterte has used the killing of thousands of largely poor drug suspects as a tool to bolster his popularity,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “He’s also targeting anyone who might undermine that popularity, from outspoken senators to journalists documenting his abuses.”

President Duterte has used the killing of thousands of largely poor drug suspects as a tool to bolster his popularity.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

The extrajudicial killings of drug suspects expanded to urban areas outside the capital in 2018. Nationwide, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said, nearly 5,000 drug suspects were killed between July 2016 and November 2018 during anti-drug operations, although domestic rights groups assert that police and alleged police agents killed thousands more.

The administration stepped up its attacks against “drug war” critics, including activist groups, the Catholic church, opposition politicians, and the media. In December the authorities brought politically motivated charges for tax evasion against the critical news website Rappler and its editor, Maria Ressa.

Duterte targeted the Catholic church, which has criticized the “drug war,” accusing bishops of corruption and labeling most Filipino priests homosexuals. In December, he urged the public to kill “useless bishops” because “all they do is criticize” the government.

The government vilified activist groups, calling them communists, and terrorists. In March, the foreign affairs secretary accused human rights groups of being “unwitting tools” of drug syndicates. In November, gunmen killed a rights lawyer, Benjamin Ramos, in Negros Occidental. Ramos represented the families of victims of a recent massacre of peasants in the province. There were violent attacks against human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, environmentalists, indigenous group members, peasants, and farmers.

Senator Leila de Lima, Duterte’s most prominent critic, has remained in jail since her arrest in February 2017 on trumped-up drug charges. Another senator, Antonio Trillanes IV, was also threatened with arrest in September for criticizing Duterte. In May, acting on a petition by the government, the Supreme Court ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for her criticism of the “drug war” and other policies of the Duterte administration.

There were two rare triumphs of accountability in the Philippines in 2018. One was the conviction in September of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and two others for the 2006 kidnapping and illegal detention of two student activists. In November, three police officers were convicted for the August 2017 “drug war” murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.

“President Duterte has provided no indication of any letup in his murderous drug war,” Adams said. “Foreign donors should support efforts by Philippine institutions, groups and the media who are pressing the government to stop the killings and bring those responsible to justice.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to the review of Senegal under the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It focuses on the right to education, exploitation and abuse of talibé children, right to health violations, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the protection of students, teachers, and schools in situations of armed conflict.

Barriers to the Right to Primary and Secondary Education (article 13)

Human Rights Watch welcomes the government of Senegal’s commitment to expand provision of primary and secondary education to more young people, including by allocating over 20 percent of its national budget to education. However, Human Rights Watch’s 2018 research on barriers to secondary education shows that the government has made inadequate progress in the retention of girls in school, and that it does not provide free basic education.

According to Senegal’s Education Law, primary and lower-secondary education is free and compulsory for all girls and boys age 6 to 16. However, in practice, secondary school students may be required to pay close to 40,000 FCFA (US$75) in tuition fees, furniture costs and extra tuition for afternoon classes, forcing many children to drop out.[1] Our findings also show that alongside school fees and indirect costs, gender discrimination contributes to low rates of retention and completion of compulsory lower secondary education, particularly in rural areas. In some communities, parents prioritize boys’ education over girls’ education.[2]

Pregnancy as a Barrier to Education

Senegal has moved from previous restrictive and punitive policies to providing a pathway for pregnant girls to continue their education. In 2007, the government adopted a “re-entry” policy for young mothers, overturning its previous position to expel pregnant girls from school. The policy stipulates that in order to return to school, girls must show a medical certificate that shows they are ready to return to school.[3]

Despite this positive accommodation however, many girls do not return to school as they lack financial and family support.[4] According to the joint UNFPA-GEEP study, more than 54 percent of young mothers dropped out of school between 2011 and 2014 and only fifteen percent of young mothers resumed their education in that same period.[5]

Overall, teenage pregnancy rates remain very high across the country. Girls have little access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptives, and teenage pregnancy frequently ends a girl’s schooling. One in ten girls and one in twenty boys age 15-24 had their first sexual encounter before they were 15 years old.[6] Further, eight percent of girls aged 15 to 19 have already given birth.[7]

In order to curb teenage pregnancy rates and improve the retention of girls in secondary schools the government needs to do more to ensure students have access to adequate comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education. The government has been needlessly slow to adopt a national comprehensive sexual and reproductive health curriculum. At time of writing, it was reluctant to include content on sexuality in the curriculum due to concerns that teaching sexuality contradicts Senegal’s cultural and moral values, as well as due to pressure from religious groups.[8]

School-Related Sexual and Gender Based Exploitation and Violence

Human Rights Watch research conducted in 2018 found that many girls are exposed to sexual exploitation, harassment, and abuse by teachers and school staff. Human Rights Watch found that some teachers abuse their position of authority by sexually harassing girls and engaging in sexual relations with them, many of whom are under 18. Teachers have lured girls with the promise of money, good grades, food, or items such as mobile phones and new clothes. Female students—and to a certain extent, teachers and school officials—have characterized this as “relationships” between teachers and students. Human Rights Watch believes that this type of characterization undermines the gravity of the abuse, leads to underreporting of the problem, and blurs the perpetrators’ and victims’ perception of the severity of these abuses.

Human Rights Watch found that different forms of sexual exploitation and harassment remain pervasive in secondary schools in Senegal.[9] Students are particularly vulnerable to these abuses on the way to school, around teachers’ homes, as well as during students’ evening gatherings, which are sometimes organized on school premises.

When girls have turned down teachers’ proposals, they have sometimes found that the teachers punished them for rejecting their advances by awarding them lower grades than they deserved, ignoring and not letting them participate in class discussions or exercises. In some of the areas where Human Rights Watch conducted research, the low retention rate of girls in secondary schools appears to be closely linked to fear that girls will be exposed to sexual harassment and gender-based violence in school, or that girls will be at high risk of pregnancy because of the school environment.[10]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Senegal to:

  • Adopt a policy to make secondary education fully free of charge;
  • Officially and in practice remove school fees and indirect costs in secondary education;
  • Adopt a national education policy against sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse, that includes: guidance on what constitutes or could lead up to these abuses, procedures to be adopted when cases are reported to school staff, clear school-based enforcement mechanisms and sanctions, and referrals to police;
  • Ensure that legislation relating to school-related sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse, are rigorously enforced, and that perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice and punished with sanctions that are commensurate to their crimes;
  • Explicitly prohibit all forms of sexual and gender-based violence against girls and young women in and around educational institutions;
  • Ensure all schools have functioning confidential and independent reporting mechanisms, connected to child protection committees;
  • Adopt a strong curriculum on sexual and reproductive health and rights which complies with international standards, is mandatory, age-appropriate, and scientifically accurate; including information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, responsible sexual behavior, prevention of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; and
  • Amend and/or adopt laws to strengthen protection for children affected by abuse.

Abuse and Exploitation Against Talibé Children (article 10, 12, and 13)

Over 120,000 talibés, children attending residential Quranic schools (daaras) in Senegal, are forced to beg for food or money by their Quranic teachers (marabouts), who serve as their de facto guardians. Thousands of these children live in conditions akin to slavery, forced to endure often extreme forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Abuses against these children include severe beatings, chaining, imprisonment, and sexual abuse, and neglect results in deprivation of their rights to basic health care and education. Many daaras are housed in decrepit or unfinished buildings without water, sanitation, electricity or security, exposing the children to health and safety risks. 

The government has recently taken steps related to the rights of talibé children. From 2016 to 2017, a government program resulted in the removal of more than 1,500 children from the streets, and 300 more were removed from the streets in 2018. In November 2017, Senegalese police, together with Interpol, picked up over 54 children including 47 talibés from the streets, arresting five Quranic teachers for child trafficking and exploitation.[11]

Despite these important steps, Human Rights Watch is concerned that talibé children still face human rights violations. In July 2017, Human Rights Watch found that more than 1000 children taken from the streets as part of the 2016-2017 government program were later returned to the same Quranic teachers who had forced them to beg.[12] In 2017 and 2018, Human Rights Watch documented several cases of talibé deaths due to abuse or neglect, and dozens of other cases of beatings for failing to bring their marabout the required sum of money, chaining and imprisonment for attempting to run away, and sexual abuse.

Despite the government’s program to remove the children from the streets, there was no noticable reduction in the number of talibés begging in the streets of Senegal’s major cities during 2018, with the exception of two Dakar municipalities where mayors issued decrees banning begging and took steps to close several daaras that did not comply.  

Senegal has strong domestic laws against child abuse, trafficking and exploitation, and forced child begging, and arrests and prosecutions of Quranic teachers for such abuses have increased slightly in recent years. Nevertheless, the police often still failed to investigate cases of forced begging and exploitation, social workers failed to report many such cases, and charges against Quranic teachers continued to be dropped or sentences reduced by the judiciary in 2017 and 2018. In its second phase in 2018, the program to “remove children from the streets” in Dakar again failed to ensure justice against the Quranic teachers responsible for forcing the children to beg.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Senegal to:

  • Increase enforcement of current domestic laws that criminalize child trafficking, forced begging and abuse, and investigate and hold accountable Quranic teachers who violate these laws;
  • Pass the draft law establishing legal status and regulations for daaras (projet de loi portant statut des daaras), which has been approved by the Council of Ministers but awaits a vote before the National Assembly;
  • Increase funding and support to structures that can provide legal assistance to separated children such as talibés who are victims of abuse or exploitation;
  • Formally involve relevant sectors of the Ministry of Justice, including its AEMO social services agency, in the program to remove children from the streets (le retrait des enfants de la rue) with a view to ensuring investigations and prosecutions of adults, including Quranic teachers, forcing children to beg for profit or committing other abuses.
  • Mandate local inspections of existing daaras, with a view to ensuring that any failing to meet appropriate health and safety standards or exploiting children through forced begging are shut down;
  • Dedicate funding to building the capacity of existing children’s shelters and care centers, as well as to installing new shelters or care systems in regions that lack facilities to care for abused or separated children.

Barriers to the Right to Health (article 12)

Palliative Care

Senegal is a regional leader in palliative care, which focuses on pain treatment and quality of life. A 2012 study found 16 of 22 countries in Francophone Africa have no healthcare providers specializing in palliative care. However, since 2014, the Senegalese government has taken steps to improve access to palliative care. It has revised its national estimate for morphine in order to increase the quantity, to address need, and it has expanded the types of morphine formulations available, buying morphine tablets for public hospitals. It changed regulations limiting the prescription of morphine to seven days at a time – forcing patients at the end of life to travel long distances to get a new prescription – to 28 days.

Despite this progress, there is still some work that remains to be done in expanding palliative care services to incurable patients and areas of the country beyond the capital.[13]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Commend Senegal for its work on improving access to palliative care services.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Senegal to:

  • Expand palliative care services to incurable patients and areas of the country beyond the capital.

Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (article 2, 12)

Since 2009, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Senegalese law criminalizes consensual homosexual conduct—a fact that is used to justify arrests of individuals perceived to be homosexual. Criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct and state failure to protect LGBT people from violence go hand in hand. They further marginalize an already vulnerable population, and limit LGBT people’s access to the right to non-discrimination and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Human Rights Watch and its Senegalese partner organizations identified 38 cases between 2011 and 2016 in which police arrested people based on their perceived sexual orientation, and charged them with “unnatural acts” under article 319 of the Criminal Code.  Senegal denied at its 2018 Universal Periodic Review that anyone is arrested for consensual same-sex conduct, but unfortunately such arrests continue to occur. The arrests documented have been the result either of sweeping police raids of public areas known to be gay hangouts, or of unsubstantiated denunciations from family members, neighbors, or acquaintances of those arrested. During arrests, many men and women described police officers slapping them, beating them with fists, and with hard rubber batons.

Examples include the arrest of 11 men at a birthday party in Kaolack in December 2015; the arrest of seven male drummers and dancers at a wedding of a woman and a man at a private home in Ziguinchor in July 2015, after a guest reported the presence of “homosexuals” to police; and the arrest of ten women, accused of being lesbians, as they visited a sick friend at a hospital in Dakar in January 2015. One victim said that on May 2015, when he was stabbed and beaten in an apparent homophobic attack, police detained him instead of his attackers and denied him medical treatment. Police also failed to protect LGBT people: in one emblematic case in December 2015, the police commissioner of a police station in a Dakar suburb told a man who had come to report regular death threats and physical harassment relating to his sexual orientation: “We do not defend homosexuals.”

The government’s criminalization and harassment of men who have sex with men (MSM) and men perceived to be gay or bisexual is undermining its effectiveness in addressing the HIV epidemic. In some regions, police appeared to conduct surveillance of, and investigation into, MSM associations working on HIV prevention and treatment in key populations. Police arrested members of one such association in 2011, with the apparent goal of forcing the association to stop their activities. Four members of such associations said police approached investigation of their association as if they were organized criminal networks, rather than grassroots organizations working with Senegal’s Ministry of Health to address a concentrated HIV epidemic amongst Senegalese MSM.

Senegal’s own National Strategic Plan on HIV (2018-2022)  points out that the criminalization of homosexual conduct in Senegal constitutes a “real obstacle” to HIV prevention and treatment services, thereby restricting human rights. It also calls for increased accessibility of condoms and lubricants for MSM, includes calls for improving the human rights situation for MSM, and recommends dismantling legal barriers that complicate their access to treatment. However, fear of arrest and prosecution has restricted the ability of MSM health activists to operate freely and prevents gay men from accessing essential services.

As affirmed at the 15th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in Senegal, December 3-7, 2008, criminalization of homosexual conduct is a significant hurdle in providing education, testing, and treatment to MSM populations in Africa. Its direct effects and the stigma it reinforces drive MSM populations underground in fear of discrimination, violence, arrest, and other repercussions.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Senegal to:

  • Decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct by removing article 319.3 from the Penal Code;
  • Ensure that organizations conducting HIV prevention and treatment activities targeting men who have sex with men (MSM) are able to work freely, without fear of police harassment.
  • Pass and implement anti-discrimination legislation that protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • Instruct police to conduct thorough investigations of all complaints regarding crimes against individuals relating to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 13)

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict;[14] the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[15] As of December 2018, 82 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. Senegal has yet to endorse this important declaration.

As of November 2018, Senegal was contributing 1,198 troops and 37 staff officers to UN peacekeeping operations around the world. Such troops are required to comply with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations “UN Infantry Battalion Manual” (2012), which includes the provision that “schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”[16]

Moreover, the 2017 Child Protection Policy of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support, and Department of Political Affairs notes:

United Nations peace operations should refrain from all actions that impede children's access to education, including the use of school premises. This applies particularly to uniformed personnel. Furthermore … United Nations peace operations personnel shall at no time and for no amount of time use schools for military purposes.[17]

Senegal’s peacekeeping troops are deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Mali — all countries where attacks on students and schools, and the military use of schools has been documented as a problem.[18]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Senegal:

  • Are protections for schools from military use included in the pre-deployment training provided to Senegalese troops participating in peacekeeping missions?
  • Do any Senegalese laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it call upon the government of Senegal to:

  • Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, and take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools, including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks.

[1] “It’s not Normal: Sexual Exploitation, Harassment and Abuse in Secondary Schools in Senegal,” Human Rights Watch, October 18, 2018,

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Leave No Girl Behind in Africa: Discrimination in Education against Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothers,” Human Rights Watch, June 14, 2018,

[4] “It’s not Normal: Sexual Exploitation, Harassment and Abuse in Secondary Schools in Senegal,” Human Rights Watch, October 18, 2018,

[5] UN Population Fund and Groupe pour l’Etude et l’Enseignement de la Population, “Sénégal : Etude sur les grossesses précoces en milieu scolaire,” p. 64.

[6] République du Sénégal, Ministère de la Santé et de l’Action Sociale, “Plan Stratégique de Santé Sexuelle et de la Reproduction des Adolescents/Jeunes au Sénégal [2014-2018],” September 2014,

(accessed December 19, 2018), p. 17.

[7] UN Population Fund, “World Population Dashboard – Senegal,” undated,

(accessed December 19, 2018).

[8] “It’s not Normal: Sexual Exploitation, Harassment and Abuse in Secondary Schools in Senegal,” Human Rights Watch, October 18, 2018,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Lauren Seibert (Human Rights Watch), “A Move Toward Justice for Senegal’s Exploited Talibé Children,” commentary, All Africa, December 6, 2017,

[12] Human Rights Watch, “I Still See the Talibés Begging”: Government Program to Protect Talibé Children in Senegal Fall Short, July 11, 2017,, p.19.; Human Rights Watch interview with government officials, May and June 2017.

[13] Senegal Makes Strides on Palliative Care, Other Countries in Francophone Africa Should Follow Suit, October 12, 2017,

[14] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, (accessed November 6, 2018).

[15] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, (accessed November 6, 2018).

[16] United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual, 2012, section 2.13, “Schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”

[17] UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support and Department of Political Affairs, “Child Protection in UN Peace Operations (Policy),” June 2017.

[18] Education Under Attack: 2018, The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2018,

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A photograph taken by a local anti-government media outlet of a remnant of a 240mm mortar projectile used in a deadly attack by Syrian government forces on Jarjanaz on November 24, 2018. 

© 2016 Syria Now

(Beirut) – A November 24, 2018 attack by Syrian government forces near an elementary school that killed six children, a teacher, and a student’s mother, appears to have been unlawful and indiscriminate. All parties to the conflict, including the Syrian-Russian military alliance and non-state armed groups, should ensure that children and civilians are protected from any attack.

The ground-launched attack in the town of Jarjanaz, in Idlib governorate, was with a Russian-made 240mm mortar system, which fires a large high-explosive projectile that is designed to “demolish fortifications and fieldworks,” according to a Russian arms merchandizing catalogue. It also wounded as many as 10 children, at least two of whom lost limbs, and three adults. Launching an indiscriminate attack resulting in death or injury to civilians, or an attack in the knowledge that it will cause excessive incidental civilian loss, injury or damage, when committed with criminal intent, can amount to a war crime.

“This horrific attack on Jarjanaz is a small glimpse of what an all-out offensive on Idlib without strict measures to protect civilians could mean for thousands of children,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “In light of recent upheavals in the province, it is essential for Russia to pressure Syrian government forces to halt such blatantly unlawful attacks and for all parties to the conflict to make protecting civilians a priority.”

About 3 million people remain in Idlib, over half of whom have fled fighting elsewhere in Syria. It is one of the last major areas controlled by anti-government groups. Despite a ceasefire agreement between government and anti-government armed groups in Idlib governorate since September 17, both parties have carried out artillery attacks. In November and December, there were at least eight attacks on Jarjanaz, which residents say was under the control of the Turkey-backed anti-government National Liberation Front at the time of the November 24 attack. In January, the area was taken by Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, an anti-government group known to be close to al-Qaeda.  In-fighting among the anti-government factions has also caused civilian casualties.

Witnesses said that between 12:45 and 1 p.m. on November 24, three projectiles hit the area near al-Khansaa elementary school, on the southwestern outskirts of Jarjanaz, causing massive explosions. Photographs shared with Human Rights Watch by witnesses and online videos posted within hours of the attack show remnants of Russian-made 3F2 “Gagara” rocket-assisted 240mm mortar projectiles.

Al-Khansaa elementary school operated with two shifts, the first for children ages 6 to 9 and the second, which began at 11 a.m., for children ages 8 to 13, school administrators said. Roughly 200 children in the second shift were at the school when the first artillery round exploded at around 12:45 or 12:50 p.m. on Saturday, a school-day in the area, school officials told Human Rights Watch.

Next to the school is a teacher-training college with another 250 students, attended by women ages 19 and older. All remained inside the college during the attacks and none were wounded, said school officials and a civil defense volunteer whose father works at the college.

Human Rights Watch spoke via WhatsApp with seven witnesses to the attack, including three staff members at the school, a store-owner who lives nearby, a local media activist, and two civil defense volunteers who arrived at the school to evacuate the wounded. All asked not to be named, fearing reprisals by government forces. Human Rights Watch also reviewed photographs and videos the witnesses shared, and videos and images of the attack posted online.

Witnesses said they could not hear the mortars being fired but that the explosions were extraordinarily loud, which is consistent with the range and destructive power of rocket-assisted 240mm mortar projectiles. “The sound was louder than barrels or MiG bombs,” one resident said, referring to the improvised barrel bombs, dropped by Syrian helicopters and to conventional high-explosive bombs dropped by fixed-wing Russian-made aircraft.

All the witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed affirmed that no military objects were in Jarjanaz or near the school, although Human Rights Watch could not independently verify this. A media activist said that residents had not permitted “armed groups to cross through [Jarjanaz], no convoys, and there are no military headquarters. The headquarters are in agricultural lands far away from the town.” A school official affirmed that “there have been no military centers or headquarters in Jarjanaz” since the conflict began in 2011.

The lack of a military presence in or near the school, or the surrounding area would make such attacks on civilians indiscriminate and possibly deliberate. Even if the attacks had targeted a military objective, the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in a populated area should be avoided due to the foreseeable harm to civilians, Human Rights Watch said.

“There is no excuse for attacking civilian structures like schools, yet Syrian forces continue to maim and kill schoolchildren with impunity,” said Van Esveld. “Stopping indiscriminate attacks is an important first step to protect those most vulnerable.”

The Weapons Used

The rocket-assisted mortar projectiles used in the attack have a maximum range of up to 20 kilometers, with a high-explosive warhead weighing 46 kilograms with wide area destructive effect. Each projectile weighs 239 kilograms and requires a team of at least five to load and fire from 240mm mortars that are either towed or mounted on a carrier vehicle.

Human Rights Watch documented the Syrian military’s devastating use of 240mm mortars in indiscriminate attacks on the city of Homs in 2012, and the use of a rocket-assisted 240mm cluster munition projectile containing submunitions in an attack on a school in the Damascus suburb of Douma in 2015. None of the armed opposition groups in Syria are known to have used the 240mm mortar system.

The November 24 Attack

The first projectile landed about 550 meters northeast of the school, destroying a four-room house whose owners were not home. About eight minutes later, the second projectile exploded in the street  about 30 meters northwest of the school,  killing Rawea Abdel Rezzek al-Dugheim, 30, and her son, Hussein, 11, a student, who were in a car. Staff members said the blast shattered school windows and that several panicked students and a teacher who lived nearby ran out of the school to adjacent agricultural fields.

Two or three minutes after the second explosion, the third projectile hit the same agricultural area, about 75 meters west of the school, two school officials said, killing the teacher, Khadija al-Dabaan, age 30 or 33, who was pregnant; brothers Iyad and Abdelghani al-Dugheim, 10 and 11; Othman Ahmad al-Dabaan, 9; and two girls, Nijmeh al-Dabaan, 12, and Asmaa al-Khattab, 12, who had run out of the school.

The third attack wounded 10 children, of whom 9 were students, according to residents and rights monitors, including the teacher’s 20-month-old son, whom she was carrying and whose left leg was cut off; a 10-year-old boy whose right leg was cut off; another student; and a boy who was coming to bring his sister home from school; a woman who came to pick up her children; a 50-year-old resident, whose abdomen and spine were wounded, partially paralyzing him; and Maarouf Ibrahim al-Jabban, a civil defense volunteer, wounding his vertebrae and spine.

Attacks continued later that day, and the next. F.D., a media activist who filmed the attacks at the school in Jarjanaz, told Human Rights Watch that “there was shelling every two hours.” A 3-year-old girl, Amina al-Dibo, was killed by artillery shelling at 2:30 a.m., and her 5-month-old brother was wounded,  residents and rights groups reported.

Two school officials said that they and many other residents had fled Jarjanaz due to the ongoing attacks. One school official said that the town was hit by more artillery attacks on November 25 and 26: “There is no one left. If there are no citizens and there are no students, who will open the schools?”

An attack on September 10 hit the al-Quds primary school and the adjacent al-Nidhal secondary school in Jarjanaz, wounding five students and causing the schools to close for three days, according to rights monitors and another school official, H.D. Residents said that another attack, on November 2, killed eight people, all civilians. Among the fatalities, Syrian rights monitors identified two children, Mustafa al-Khatoun, 15, and Mohammad al-Ezo, 10.

Witness Accounts

A senior school administrator, H.D., said that after the first attack, he stood at the main entrance to the school to try to prevent the children from leaving:

In training sessions, we’re told that staying inside [during an attack] is safer than being outside. At the same time, however, glass had shattered and people were fainting. Parents arrived to take their children, they were scared. And when they arrived, the second attack came. The second and third [rounds] hit barely a few meters away from the entrance. ... No day was like [November] 24. A father, a mother, they came to get their children, and to see them die in front of their eyes? A hundred meters apart, but they couldn’t reach each other. This is going to affect everyone in Jarjanaz, the entire education sector.

M. D., who owns a shop in the main market of Jarjanaz, said he began driving home on his motorcycle after the first explosion, and that his home was near the school, where the second explosion hit while he was on his way.

I arrived at the school entrance. Children were screaming -- mothers, all of them crying. Remains all over. An arm. A leg. Guts. You can’t describe it, some had lost a leg, some lost an arm, some were screaming. These is nothing more hideous. The first person I saw was my brother. He had been hiding behind a wall, but it was fate. He was hit by a [metal fragment]. It seems he was trying to head toward our home to hide, but he didn’t make it. He was in Grade 5. I went to him, removed his backpack, and carried him to a vehicle and they took him away.

 I stayed to help the civil defense, and suddenly the third [projectile] fell, about 10 meters west, injuring a lot of people, including a guy from the civil defense. Whoever wasn’t hit in the second attack, was in the third. I don’t know what to say. It tears your heart apart. Children begging me, “Uncle please pull us out, we need help.”

F. D., the media activist, said he was “worried the school was targeted” after hearing the second attack, and drove toward the site.

Two minutes after the second, the third [shell] fell while I was on my way. The second one fell in the street, in front of a home, damaging it and destroying two vehicles. The civil defense arrived to rescue people and pull out the children, [whose bodies were] in pieces, with their backpacks. What I saw was horrible. On the right, people asking for help, crying. On the left, also, people asking for help. From the front, people crying and sobbing. I looked to the left and saw a vehicle that was destroyed with a woman and child killed. […]

The third [mortar projectile] had exploded] in a field and killed the students who had been running away from the school through the agricultural lands, as they were scared to run away in between the houses. One had no leg. Another lost half his head. Another one, part of him was gone. They were all torn apart and yet had their backpacks on their shoulders. Blood was all over the place. Artillery shelling. I felt lost. It was horrible. I’ve seen a lot. But similar to this, nothing.

M.J., a civil defense worker from the Talmenes center, drove to the school in a pickup truck accompanied by an emergency vehicle to evacuate casualties from the second projectile. He suffered a back injury from the blast wave from the third projectile:

When I got out of the pickup, I walked a few meters toward the place where the second [projectile] fell. When the third fell, the pressure, it threw me onto the truck. I remember there were two girls, students walking toward me. I hit the truck and fell down on the ground. The two girls fell down in front of me. I tried to pull one of them, barely got to her, but couldn’t due to my injury. My back, my leg, didn’t let me pull her. The girl died. I survived.

A.I., who works at the school, heard the first projectile detonate, but said the second explosion caused children to “start screaming”:

The sound of the explosion, it’s the first time we hear something like that, it was huge, very, very terrifying, and very harmful. We tried to control the situation. We put everyone in between two buildings. We closed the doors, we didn’t want to let them go outside. Some, however, left along with the teacher, and the second [projectile] fell where they were, 25 meters away. The school was the target.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Starting today, Tiffany and Co. will begin sharing the origins of its diamonds with its customers, setting a new level of transparency among large jewelry retailers. As part of this welcome initiative, all of Tiffany’s stores will now provide the country or region of origin for all newly-sourced diamonds above .18 carat. It’s now time for others in the industry to do the same.

Transparency is the first step to improve human rights in a supply chain. When I shop in my local grocery store, I know where most items come from. Right now, it carries bananas from Colombia, tomatoes from Mexico, and salmon from Norway. But if I go to a jewelry store to buy a piece of diamond jewelry worth far more than a bunch of bananas, almost no one can tell me where the diamond comes from.

The diamond industry has long been extremely opaque about the source of their diamonds. Mining companies may source diamonds from multiple countries, but not tell their clients where specific stones come from. Why does it matter? While reputable mining and jewelry companies have taken steps to avoid selling “conflict diamonds,” diamonds may be tainted by other abuses, including displacement, forced or child labor, and environmental harm. According to the US Department of Labor, for example, diamonds from seven African countries may be mined with child or forced labor. Diamonds from Zimbabwe may be linked to torture, beatings, harassment, and forced relocation. A thoughtful consumer is unlikely to want to buy a diamond mined under such conditions.

Last year, Human Rights Watch launched a campaign, #BehindtheBling, challenging the jewelry industry to ensure its gold and diamonds are responsibly sourced. Since we began the campaign, several companies have taken steps to be more transparent and improve their sourcing practices. Tiffany’s announcement is another step forward, and we encourage others, particularly diamond mining companies, to provide their clients with information on the origins of the diamonds they sell.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Exterior of the Women and Children's Reformatory in Erbil, where several dozen children are held in pre-trial detention or are serving sentences for alleged ISIS affiliation. 

© 2018 Jo Becker/Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – The Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq is torturing children to confess to involvement with the Islamic State (ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today. 

Children told Human Rights Watch that in 2017 and 2018, security officers, known as Asayish, used beatings, stress positions, and electric shock on boys in their custody. Most said they had no access to a lawyer and they were not allowed to read the confessions Asayish wrote and forced them to sign.

“Jabar,” 17, said that Asayish officers tied his arms in a stress position known as the “scorpion” pose for an hour during his interrogation. 

“Nearly two years after the Kurdistan Regional Government promised to investigate the torture of child detainees, it is still occurring with alarming frequency,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Kurdistan authorities should immediately end all torture of child detainees and investigate those responsible.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 boys, ages 14 to 17, charged or convicted of ISIS affiliation, at the Women and Children’s Reformatory in Erbil in November 2018, and three boys who had recently been released. The reformatory, a locked detention center encircled by high walls and concertina wire, is one of three facilities holding children in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

At the time of the visit, reformatory staff reported that 63 children were being held at the facility for alleged terrorism-related offenses, including 43 who had been convicted. Human Rights Watch also interviewed staff, relatives of some of the children, and two 18-year-olds who had also been arrested and detained.

Sixteen of the 23 children said that one or more Asayish officers had tortured them during interrogation at Asayish facilities, beating them all over their bodies with plastic pipes, electric cables, or rods. Three boys said that the officers used electric shocks. Others described being tied into a painful stress position called the “scorpion” for up to two hours. Several boys said the torture continued over consecutive days, and only ended when they confessed.

Four other boys said Asayish threatened them with torture during interrogation. “If you don’t tell us the truth, I will call the guys and they will beat you and break your bones,” a 17-year-old boy recalled his interrogator telling him.

Several boys said that they had joined and worked with ISIS or received religious or military training. One worked as a driver, another as a cook. Only one said that he had participated in fighting against Iraqi military forces in Nineveh governate. Others said that they had no personal involvement with ISIS, although family members were involved. Some said that neither they nor their family were involved. Human Rights Watch was not able to independently assess their possible involvement with ISIS.

All but one of the boys interviewed said they eventually confessed. Most said they had no choice to stop the torture, and many said they had lied. “My confession says that I joined ISIS for 16 days, but actually, I didn’t join at all,” said a 16-year-old boy. “I said 16 days to stop the torture.”

Most of the boys said that their interrogators told them what they should confess. “First they said I should say I was with ISIS, so I agreed,” said a 14-year-old boy. “Then they told me I had to say I worked for ISIS for three months. I told them I was not part of ISIS, but they said, ‘No, you have to say it.’” He said that after two hours of interrogation and torture, he agreed. 

None of the boys said that they were allowed to read the confession Asayish wrote for them and forced them to sign. Most only learned what it said when it was read out in court.

At least five boys said they told an investigative or trial judge that their confession was produced under torture, but that the judges appeared to ignore their statements. The boys said terrorism suspects are brought before an investigative judge, typically while in Asayish custody, and that the judge may then order the suspect’s transfer to the detention center pending trial before a three-judge panel.

The methods of torture the boys described, as well as their accounts of inadequate counsel and scarce communication with family members, were similar to the accounts of 17 boys held for alleged association with ISIS at the same detention center who spoke with Human Rights Watch in December 2016. In 2017, the regional government promised to establish an investigative committee in conjunction with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq to address the allegations.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Dr. Dindar Zebari, the regional government’s coordinator for international advocacy, requesting comment on the new findings. Zebari responded on December 18 that security officials are not permitted to torture detainees, and that if detainees are tortured, they have a right to make a formal complaint. He also stated that detainees have the right to request a lawyer, that families are notified if a child is detained, and that child detainees can call their families with Asayish present. He did not provide any information regarding the investigative committee or any other measures taken to investigate Asayish officers implicated in torture.

International human rights and humanitarian law prohibit torture and other ill-treatment. Children should only be detained as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period. International law regarding children and armed conflict calls on states to assist children illegally recruited by armed groups or forces, including providing appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration. Children charged with criminal offenses have the right to legal assistance and a prompt determination of their case. They also have the right not to be compelled to give testimony or confess guilt, and statements derived from torture cannot be used as evidence in court.

Kurdish regional authorities should not arrest any child without credible evidence of criminal activity and should establish rehabilitation and reintegration programs for children who may have been involved with ISIS. Authorities should ensure that there is a clear legal basis for detaining any child, and that the child is promptly taken before a judge to rule on the legality of their detention.

The Kurdish government should ensure that any child charged with criminal offenses has legal representation, including during their interrogations, and contact with their family. The authorities should take immediate action to end all use of torture and coerced confessions, and to investigate and appropriately prosecute those responsible. Judges learning of torture should transfer the child to a different facility, ensure that adequate medical care is provided, and order a retrial if a coerced confession was used.

“Many of these children have already been scarred by conflict and ISIS abuses,” Becker said. “Instead of achieving justice, torture and coerced confessions only compound their suffering and contribute to further grievances.”

Treatment of Children

None of the boys were brought before a judge within 24 hours of their initial detention, as required by the regional government’s penal code. Most said they saw a judge several days after their arrest. Most were transferred to the reformatory within 15 days of arrest, but several were detained in Asayish custody for between two and five months, they said.

Most of the children interviewed said they were arrested at checkpoints entering the Kurdistan Region, often because their name was on a security list of ISIS suspects, while others were arrested at camps for internally displaced people. Many boys believed their name appeared on a security list because a family member was affiliated with ISIS, their name was similar to another suspect’s, or people from their village had reported their family because of unrelated grievances. 

Only four of the boys appeared to have legal representation. Some had no idea whether they had a lawyer, and most were unaware of their right to legal representation. Some reported that reformatory staff had told them that lawyers were only available if they could pay. Two boys met with a lawyer hired privately just once before their trial, and two others said that they saw someone whom they believed was a lawyer for the first time only at their trial. Even then, they had little to no interaction with the lawyer, and if the lawyer spoke to the judge, it was in Kurdish, which they did not understand.

They said their trials lasted only 5 or 10 minutes. They said no witnesses appeared at their trials, and none were aware of any evidence presented apart from their confession. Most of those convicted received sentences of six or nine months in detention.

None of the boys said they were allowed to communicate with their families while in Asayish custody. Once at the reformatory, children were allowed family visits before trial, but most said they were denied phone calls until after sentencing. For some detainees, the inability to make phone calls meant that their families had no idea where they were. One boy said he had been detained for nearly two years without contact with his family. Reformatory staff said that the Asayish determines whether detainees can receive visits or phone calls.

Torture, Lack of Legal Counsel, Unfair Trials


“Samir,” whose real name, like those of other boys interviewed, is withheld to protect his security, was arrested by military forces at a checkpoint in late 2017, when he was 16. He said:

There were three [Asayish] officers. They bound my hands behind my back, one from above and one below. They beat me with a stick and they gave me 5 to 10 electric shocks. They put the pads on my left shoulder and on my stomach. And while they gave me the shocks, they were beating me with a rod. They did this three days in a row. I was in the room for hours, with them coming in and out and taking breaks. On the third day I confessed. They said to admit to two months with ISIS. I did, but it was a lie. I was never with ISIS.

“Tahir,” 17, said that Asayish officers applied electric shocks to his body during his interrogation in late 2017 at the Asayish headquarters, General Security Directorate, also known as Asayish Gishti. He said that Asayish interrogated and tortured him for three days:

My hands were bound and there were six or seven officers in the room. They were all hitting me. They hit my legs and upper arms. Each day they gave me five electric shocks in a row, on my arms, chest, and upper legs. They said, “You need to say you were with ISIS, even if you weren’t you need to say it.” On the third day, I confessed to [being with ISIS for] four days. They said, “You need to say more.” I didn’t say more, I refused to.”

“Hussein” was arrested by security forces at a checkpoint in late 2017, when he was 14. He said he was held for five months at Asayish headquarters and that during interrogation:

They [Asayish officers] beat me all over my body with a plastic water pipe, and then tied my hands like a scorpion [one arm over the shoulder, and the other behind his back] for two hours. They asked me about ISIS, saying, “You have to confess you are ISIS.” They forced me to confess that I worked with ISIS for one month. They also said I should say I used Kalashnikovs [AK-47s], M16s, and PKCs [machine guns].

He said none of it was true, but that Asyasish officers told him that if he didn’t confess, they would keep torturing him and would use an electric cable.

Admitting to ISIS involvement did not preclude being tortured. “Jabar,” 17, said that when the Peshmerga, the regional government’s military, asked him about ISIS involvement, he immediately admitted that he had joined ISIS and worked as a driver for three months. He said Asayish still interrogated him using torture, demanding the names of ISIS commanders and friends who had joined ISIS. He said that Asayish officers beat him on his back with a plastic pipe for 40 minutes and tied him in the “scorpion” position for an hour. He said he didn’t know the names of any commanders but gave the names of his friends. He said after the interrogation, he was unable to lie on his back for a week.

Several boys said they were not beaten, but that Asayish threatened them with torture. “Nasim,” a 17-year-old arrested at a checkpoint in late 2018, said that during his interrogation Asayish officers said, “If you say you didn’t join, we will send you to the PMF [Baghdad-backed Popular Mobilization Forces] and they will kill you.” He told Human Rights Watch he had not been involved with ISIS but confessed to the interrogators and agreed to say that he had spent 15 days with ISIS. “They said that wasn’t enough, so I said 30 days.” A week later, he saw an investigative judge, who asked him if his confession was correct. “I said yes, because I was afraid if I didn’t, they might torture me or do something to me.”

“Sadoon,” 17, said the Asayish interrogated and beat him several times in late 2018 at Asayish headquarters. “Several times they said to me, ‘If you don’t confess, I will take you outside and beat you until you confess. We won’t bring you to the reformatory until you confess.’”

“Shamal,” 16, said the Asayish arrested him in early 2018 when he accompanied his mother to Erbil. At first, he denied any ISIS involvement. He said that when ISIS came to his community, his family took their sheep and left the area. He said that Asayish officers interrogated and beat him:

I think there were three officers, but I was blindfolded, so I am not sure. They kept saying, “You are ISIS,” and hit me many times with long rods. On the second day, the same thing happened, so finally that day I confessed. They said to say that I was with ISIS for six months, but I said no, that I would only confess to two months.

Legal Assistance

“Samir” was tried in mid-2018. He said:

Maybe there was a female lawyer for me, I’m not sure. During my case she was speaking to the judges in Kurdish. She never spoke to me and did not meet me before or after trial.

“Sami,” 17, arrested in mid-2018, said:

Here in prison, they come by, the staff, with lists of lawyers, and say how much it would cost to get one. You cannot get a lawyer for free. I am too scared to ask for a lawyer when I go to the judge. They may punish me with a longer sentence.


Most of the boys said that their trial lasted no more than 5 or 10 minutes. They said the judge typically read their confession and asked if they had joined ISIS. Although the judges spoke Arabic to the boys, they generally spoke Kurdish to others in the courtroom and among themselves.

“Khalef,” 14, described his trial in August:

At the trial, the judge asked if I was ISIS or not. I said I wasn’t. He read my confession. I said my confession came from torture, but the judge didn’t say anything. He sentenced me to six months. The trial lasted about 10 minutes.

“Shamal,” 16, was arrested in early 2018 and tried five months later. He said that when he appeared before an investigative judge, he told the judge he had confessed under torture. “The judge just nodded and told me to leave the room. He didn’t order a medical exam or anything like that.” The judge confirmed his charge and two months later, he was tried before three judges. He had no lawyer, but again told the judges that he had been tortured. “They ignored it.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A US border patrol agent walks along the border fence separating Mexico from the United States near Calexico, California, U.S. February 8, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(Washington, DC) – US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have turned away unaccompanied children seeking asylum at the border, exposing them to the danger of return to the countries they fled, Human Rights Watch said today.

US immigration officials at the Tijuana-San Diego border posts and elsewhere have been “metering” asylum applicants – allowing a limited number in each day – since the summer, intensifying a practice that emerged under the Obama administration. Getting on the waitlist is an uncertain process and usually requires photo identification, which many unaccompanied children do not have.

Separately, a Department of Homeland Security policy announced Thursday aims to return asylum seekers to Mexico while their claims are processed in the US, raising serious concerns about whether asylum-seeking adults and families will be able to access fair and timely procedures and wait safely in Mexico. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress on Thursday that unaccompanied children will not be subject to this new policy.

Waiting in Mexico presents its own risks. Children face a real risk of deportation from Mexico – including to situations of persecution and violence – by Mexican immigration officials. There are also potential security risks for migrants in northern Mexico. Two Honduran children were murdered in Tijuana on Saturday while in the process of moving from one migrant shelter to another, according to news reports.

“Children who seek asylum at the US-Mexico border face an impossible situation, with the administration telling them not to cross outside of official ports of entry but then turning them back at official border crossings,” said Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior children’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch.

In a recent case, agents turned away eight boys – seven from Honduras and one from Mexico – who had walked from their shelter to the Otay Mesa border crossing, another of the crossings between Tijuana and San Diego, to seek asylum on December 4, 2018. Each had been in Tijuana for about two months, including several weeks at an increasingly fetid camp in the Benito Juárez stadium, while they tried to determine how they could seek asylum in the US, three of the boys told Human Rights Watch.

The boys were assisted by a team of lawyers volunteering with Al Otro Lado, a nonprofit in Tijuana that helps asylum seekers. When they arrived at the border crossing, agents made everybody in the group step back and line up against the wall, the boys and the lawyers said. The boys thought they were waiting to see a more senior US immigration officer, they told Human Rights Watch. Instead, after about an hour, Mexican immigration officials arrived and threatened to deport everybody in the group, the boys and their lawyers said.

Some of the boys were standing on the US side of the border when they told CBP agents they were requesting asylum, said Anna Joseph, one of the attorneys accompanying the group. But the agents ordered them to step back into Mexican territory. Then a row of border agents – at least five, in the videos and photos Human Rights Watch viewed – stood along the line marking the physical border.

After protracted negotiation, CBP allowed the Mexican boy to walk in and seek asylum. Mexican officials let the seven Honduran boys go back to their shelter, and escorted those of the lawyers without Mexican passports or residence permits to the line and told them to walk into the US.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have heard accounts of turnbacks at the border for months, at least since the administration’s forcible family separation policy went into effect. In July, Human Rights Watch researchers observed border agents at crossing points in the Rio Grande Valley stopping all pedestrians at the midpoint of international bridges to check identification, and turning away those who did not have border crossing cards, visas, or US passports. Some families with children and unaccompanied children interviewed in June, July, September, and October said they were turned away at official border crossings when they requested asylum. Legal monitoring teams with the nongovernmental organization Human Rights First found turnbacks and “orchestrated bottlenecks” at many US border crossings in November and December.

Official statements and CBP agents sometimes suggest that “metering” is necessary because official border posts have limited capacity to take in asylum seekers.

It is not clear on what basis US officials say they lack capacity to process asylum seekers at the border. The numbers of families and unaccompanied children processed at regular border crossings have gone down significantly since May, when the border patrol started routinely placing uniformed agents just inside the line marking the international border. And CBP’s data show that far fewer asylum seekers are processed each day than the agency itself says it can handle.

Families and unaccompanied children told Human Rights Watch in interviews between June and December that border agents claimed that the post was “full” when they sought asylum. CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters in October: “We’re not turning people away. We’re asking them to wait.” Advocates report that US border agents have sometimes permitted children and other vulnerable people to apply for asylum at official border entry points, known as “ports of entry,” without requiring them to be on the waitlist – but only if they are accompanied by a lawyer or other advocate.

The boys who sought asylum in the US at the Otay Mesa port of entry on December 4 were told to go to another checkpoint, the “Pedestrian West” crossing in the center of Tijuana, Joseph said. But Al Otro Lado’s experience at that border crossing is that asylum seekers who are not on the waitlist – even unaccompanied children, who as a practical matter cannot get on the list – are turned away. In late November, Mexican immigration officials detained two undocumented and unaccompanied Central American children who tried to request asylum at the San Ysidro Pedestrian West crossing in preparation for their deportation, said Nicole Ramos, a lawyer with Al Otro Lado.

Under the so-called Migration Protection Protocols, in addition to the risk of return to the harm they fled, unaccompanied children and families with children face the prospect of open-ended waits in precarious conditions. Shelters in Tijuana and elsewhere along the border are at capacity. Families and unaccompanied children who were in the Benito Juárez stadium before it was closed at the end of November reported shortages of food and unsanitary conditions, particularly after heavy rainfall flooded the grounds. And unaccompanied children face other risks while they wait in Mexico, including violent crime.

Turnbacks at official border crossings have unsurprisingly coincided with an increase in irregular entry – for instance, by wading the river or scaling border walls. The US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said in September that it “saw evidence that limiting the volume of asylum-seekers entering at ports of entry leads some aliens who would otherwise seek legal entry into the United States to cross the border illegally.”

International law prohibits the government from returning people to countries where they face the risk of torture or threats to their lives or freedom. This international obligation applies to indirect acts that have the effect of returning people to harm – for example, when weeks or months of delay and uncertainty lead children to believe that they have no access to the asylum process and no practical option but to return to countries where they face serious risk of persecution or threats to their lives or safety.

To avoid the risk that Mexican immigration authorities will return children to harm in their home countries after US immigration agents turn them away from border posts, CBP agents and other US officials should allow unaccompanied children to apply for asylum, transferring these children to the custody of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

“Border turnbacks and the new policy needlessly expose children to harm,” Bochenek said. “They shouldn’t face weeks in squalid camps, the anxiety of not knowing if or when they’ll have a fair hearing, and the possibility of return to a risk of persecution or other serious abuse.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Cigarette burns cover the hands and arms of 18-year-old “Karim.” Kurdish authorities held him for 13 months.  He then returned home and was rearrested by authorities under Baghdad’s control, who tortured and held him for months.

© 2018 San Saravan

(Beirut) – Sunni Arab boys who serve prison time in Iraq’s Kurdistan region for Islamic State (also known as ISIS) connections risk rearrest after their release if they try to reunite with their families in areas controlled by Baghdad, Human Rights Watch said today. The problem stems from a lack of coordination between the separate judicial systems of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi government.

This situation currently only affects about two dozen boys who have been released after serving time on counterterrorism charges. But dozens more and hundreds of adults will soon be released from KRG prisons. The risk of rearrest means that they may not be able to return home and reintegrate into society. It may also clog up Iraq’s prisons and courts.

“The lack of coordination between Iraq’s two separate judicial systems has led to a risk of repeated prosecutions for the same crime,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Right now, the situation largely affects boys who have served shorter sentences, but as Erbil starts releasing adults who have finished their sentence, they will face the same problem.”

In November 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed four boys between ages 15 and 17 who had been arrested by the Kurdish Asayish security forces, convicted, and served sentences ranging from 2 to 14 months. None had returned home to their families, who are living in areas under the Iraqi government control. They said that they feared rearrest since they had heard that other boys who returned had been rearrested. One boy who was rearrested said that he was then tortured to confess ISIS affiliation by Iraqi prison authorities.

Each of Iraq’s two separate judicial systems have their own counterterrorism laws, which are applied in their courts. Sentences for terror charges have been significantly shorter in the Kurdistan courts than the Iraqi government courts, Human Rights Watch has found.

Historically, they had an information-sharing and transfer system. But judges from both systems have told Human Rights Watch that in recent years this system, has become less effective, particularly since the September 2017 referendum on Kurdistan region independence. A statement by the Iraqi government’s High Judicial Council on December 17 highlighted the need for better coordination and said that in November it ordered formation of a committee to improve coordination between the two judicial authorities. However, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, the committee has yet to start functioning.

As part of their campaign to defeat the ISIS, Iraqi and Kurdish security and military forces screen people leaving ISIS-controlled areas to detain those identified as ISIS suspects. They check names against “wanted” lists that security actors on both sides have developed since 2014. They compile the lists from a variety of sources, including public information about ISIS members, names published by ISIS itself, and names of ISIS suspects in their communities supplied by people fleeing ISIS-controlled areas or after the area was retaken by Iraqi forces.

Many families of detained ISIS suspects have told Human Rights Watch that neighbors or other people had put forward the name of a family member simply because of tribal, familial, land, or personal disputes.

People stopped at checkpoints, who are on the lists, face detention while officials investigate the allegation of their ISIS-affiliation. The prosecutions of those detained for ISIS affiliation in most cases rely solely on defendants’ confessions, based on information from numerous judges and lawyers, and Human Rights Watch’s own experience monitoring trials in Iraq.

Iraq’s constitution states that, “The accused may not be tried on the same crime for a second time after acquittal unless new evidence is produced.” According to two legal experts working as lawyers both in the Kurdish region and Baghdad, if a person has been convicted in one system of an offense and has completed their sentence, they cannot be tried again for the same offense anywhere in Iraq, even if new evidence has emerged. But because of the lack of coordination, it would be hard for prosecutors in one system to know whether evidence they find is new, or even whether a person they detained has served a sentence in the other jurisdiction.

Experts monitoring the situation of these boys told Human Rights Watch they knew of at least five boys who had returned home and were rearrested, but had no details about what happened to them. They said that the Asayish did not automatically give court or release documents to boys released from the Erbil Reformatory for Women and Children and that the boys needed to petition for these documents later through lawyers in a lengthy process if they wanted them.

The experts and reformatory staff also said that they also knew of many cases of the Asayish holding boys for months, then releasing them without charge. The experts said that because they were not charged, Kurdish authorities did not issue an official release certificate, as those are only issued for detainees who were brought before a judge. As a result, these boys are in an even worse situation because they have no documentation to prove they were released without charge.

In an email to Human Rights Watch on December 18, Dr. Dindar Zebari, the KRG coordinator for international advocacy, responded to concerns about the lack of coordination, saying that there has been coordination that had led to six transfers from Kurdish to Iraqi prisons. He did not respond to questions about the extent to which the judicial authorities on both sides are sharing information about acquittals and convictions, nor what documents detainees are being issued upon their release.

Human Rights Watch also wrote to Muhammad Tahir al-Mulhim, director of the human rights office within the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council, on December 12, raising the same concerns. He has yet to respond.

Judicial authorities should adopt specific policies and procedures to avoid repeated prosecutions for people who have been convicted and served their sentence for ISIS involvement, or acquitted. All forces making arrests should release all detainees who have already been exonerated or served a sentence for the same crime. Judicial authorities on both sides should start automatically sharing judicial paperwork in each case, including release certificates. They should ensure that all detainees are given release certificates upon their release, including those released without charge and remove their names from “wanted” lists.

All detaining authorities should redouble efforts to bring defendants before a judge within the legally mandated 24 hours, so that if they have served a previous sentence, they will be able to communicate this to a judge promptly and be released. Iraq should ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and set up its own independent system to inspect detention centers.

“Baghdad and Erbil need to find a solution that puts the well-being of these children at its heart,” Fakih said. “Once these boys are released, they should be able to return home to their families, return to school, and reintegrate into society as quickly as possible.”

In November, Human Rights Watch interviewed seven boys and one young man age 18 with his family, all of whom have been detained by Asayish forces for ISIS affiliation. Three were still in detention while five were in various locations in northern Iraq. Human Rights Watch interviewed the detainees privately and was able to select the detainees it was allowed to interview. All of those interviewed gave their verbal consent to be interviewed and for the information to be used in a public report but said that their identities should not be revealed.

Unable to Return
“Abdullah,” 17, said he spent a year and two months in prison in Erbil and was released after serving his sentence. He is in the Kurdistan region, but doesn’t even want his family to visit him there, as he worries that if anyone finds out that he has been released from prison and has been in contact with his family, security forces in their area will arrest the family as punishment. “If I get rearrested,” Abdullah said, “I am sure I will get a sentence of 10 or 15 years.”

“Alaa,” 16, said he was released in June after serving a 14-month sentence in Erbil. He said he was afraid to return to his village because of the pro-government Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also known as the al-Hashd al-Sha'abi, which are part of Iraqi government forces. “Once they know I’m in the village, they will come and take me away…When someone hears I am there, they will track and find me.” He felt that his only options were to stay in a camp for displaced people or leave the country.

Human Rights Watch obtained information about over two dozen other boys who had been released and were in the same situation, with no clear solution before them on how to return home safely. Researchers interviewed three boys currently serving a sentence for ISIS-affiliation at the Erbil Reformatory for Women and Children, a prison facility for women and children, who said that they would not be able to return home to their families upon release, because they had heard from other boys about the risk of rearrest. One, age 17, said he was sure he would not be able to join his mother because he believed the PMF would arrest him. He was concerned that when he is released, the Asayish would directly hand him over to the PMF. Another, also 17, said:

I cannot go back to my village after I am released because I would get rearrested. I don’t think we can ever leave the Kurdistan Region because our situation is too difficult. If we go home, the PMF will come and arrest us again – there is no chance for us to go home safely.

Case of Rearrest
“Karim” is from a village near Mosul. He said he was arrested by Peshmerga, KRG military forces, at a checkpoint when fleeing his home in March 2016. He said they handed him over to Asayish, who held him for two days along with at least four other boys from his village who had fled with him, without providing any reason. Karim said they confiscated his identity card, and then transferred him to the Asayish headquarters in Erbil, where they interrogated him and he confessed to joining ISIS for one day.

He said that Asayish transferred him to the Erbil Reformatory for Women and Children and four days later took him before a judge, where Karim again said he had joined ISIS for a day. He was taken before an investigative judge in August 2016 and released in April 2017 without charge for lack of evidence, according to court documents he showed researchers. Asayish drove him to a camp near Erbil, where his uncle picked him up and drove him home.

He said that Asayish did not return his identity card, so 10 days after returning home to Iraqi government-controlled territory, Karim went to the area’s civil status directorate to get a new card. Officials there told him to get security clearance from the Interior Ministry’s local intelligence office. There officers said he was wanted for ISIS affiliation and arrested him. He said, “I told them I had served a sentence in Erbil and had a paper ordering my release. They said they don’t care, they don’t recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government.”

They held Karim in a prison under their control for 45 days, he said, in a cell of about four-by-five meters, housing 60 detainees, about 15 of them under 18. He said he was not allowed to leave the room except for interrogations or to use the toilet, with guards beating anyone who took more than a few seconds. They ate inside the cell and had no access to a doctor, he said. Human Rights Watch verified most of the same conditions when visiting the same facility.

Karim said that interrogators repeatedly beat him and hung him from his hands bound behind his back in a technique called the “bazoona.” He said this happened at least four times, each time for 10 to 15 minutes with a few minutes in between. While torturing him, they told him to confess to having joined ISIS for three days, which he finally did, after which they took him before an investigative judge, he said. He said the guards told threatened him with more abuse if he told the judge they had tortured him. He showed researchers the marks on his body.

Guards then flew Karim with a large group of other detainees down to Baghdad and held him at a prison at Baghdad International Airport. There again, he said, officers interrogated and beat him four times with plastic pipes before he was finally taken before a judge in December 2017. The judge ordered his release after he told the judge he had been tortured during interrogations and that he had already served a sentence in the reformatory in Erbil.

His mother who was present during the interview said:

He used to love school but now sits at home all day and doesn’t go to school because he is scared if he leaves the village, and security forces find him at a checkpoint they will arrest him yet again because his name has likely not been removed from the list of people who are wanted. He sits here so scared to be rearrested, and we have even had security forces come back since he was released to question him again. Meanwhile because of everything he has been through he has started lashing out against his siblings, and often hits them.

Legal Framework
Baghdad authorities are bringing charges against those suspected of ISIS affiliation under Iraq’s counterterrorism law (no. 13/2005). The law punishes anyone who committed, incited, planned, financed, or assisted a terror act that led to death, and gives a life sentence to anyone who covers up such an act or harbors those who participated.

The KRG passed its own counter-terrorism law (no.3/2006), to replace law no. 13/2005. It calls for the death penalty for anyone who committed an act of terror or joined, founded, coordinated, or cooperated with a terrorist organization, incited, planned, financed, or assisted in a terror act. It gives a life sentence to a range of criminal acts including causing destruction to a building, hijacking, kidnapping, or financing a terror attack. It further stipulates a sentence not exceeding 15 years for publishing terrorist propaganda and knowing of a terror act without notifying the authorities.

International standards
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which Iraq acceded to on June 24, 2008, addresses the situation of children recruited into armed groups in the context of armed conflict, including terrorist and violent extremist groups. The protocol states that non-state armed groups shall not, under any circumstances recruit or use in hostilities children under 18 and calls on states parties to provide appropriate assistance for the physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration for children who have been recruited.

The Neuchâtel Memorandum on Good Practices for Juvenile Justice in a Counterterrorism Context provides specific guidance to governments regarding the treatment of children involved in terrorism activities. It urges countries to consider alternatives to detention, including diversion from the criminal justice system, and to develop rehabilitation and reintegration processes to aid the child’s successful reintegration into society.

Iraqi authorities should consider alternatives to detention and criminal prosecution for child detainees and develop rehabilitation and reintegration programs to aid their return to society.

Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iraq, states that “No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Stock image of gifts wrapped in boxes.

George Dolgikh/Pexels

Have you already done your Christmas shopping? Were you perhaps thinking of giving a ring or necklace as a gift? Jewelry remains a popular Christmas present and sales during the holiday season make up a significant part of jewelry industry revenue.

Few people think of human rights when buying a piece of jewelry at Christmas. If they do, then they remember that there are now certificates and controls, so mining profits do not go to warlords. And yet— human rights violations are commonplace in some gold and diamond mines.

Children have been injured toiling in small gold and diamond mines. Water sources in mine areas may be polluted with toxic chemicals from mines. And civilians suffer massively when armed groups enrich themselves by mining diamonds or gold.

Many jewelers say they have high ethical standards in their supply chains. But what exactly are these standards, and how are they put into practice? To find out, last year we carried out a Human Rights Watch investigation into the human rights due diligence of 13 leading jewelry companies and watchmakers.

Also, Christ, one of the largest German jewelers, was there and disappointed by its lack of transparency and its insufficient examination of human rights risks. The website simply did not have any information on the corporate responsibility in this area.

It is encouraging that Christ has recently taken an important step toward greater transparency, making public its requirements for suppliers. These are now part of a new website titled "Our Responsibility" and include, for example, the prohibition of child and forced labor as well as numerous employment and environmental standards.

Transparency is needed. By providing public statements and reports, companies show that they are accountable and accept responsibility. This is what international standards and the German government’s action plan on business and human rights demand.

Only when companies publicly report on their efforts can their words be measured by their actions— by consumers, supply chain workers, or an interested public. Therefore, some of the companies we scrutinized, such as Pandora and Tiffany, already produce a detailed annual report on their efforts to protect human rights in supply chains.

Christ has also taken the first important step towards transparency. This allows consumers to judge and ask questions themselves. An annual sustainability report would be a good next step— also, to explain why Christ has now introduced a second, additional "Code of Conduct," and where Christ’s gold and diamonds come from.

Jewelry production uses about half of the world’s gold and more than half of the world's diamonds. The mining of these minerals is only legitimate if it does not lead to human rights violations and environmental degradation. Anyone who buys jewelry this Christmas, at any jewelry shop, should remind jewelers of their responsibility and encourage them to become more transparent.


Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Girls in India during a hygiene training as part of the Great WASH Yatra. Himanshu Khagta, WASH United, 2012

A couple of years ago, a friend following me on Twitter said he found my feed really depressing. “Doesn’t anything good ever happen for children?” he asked.  

Spreading doom and gloom sometimes seems an occupational hazard of human rights work. But I’ve taken my friend’s words to heart and now, as we approach the end of the year, here are 10 good news stories for kids:

  1. A number of armed forces and armed groups released child soldiers from their ranks in 2018, including more than 900 in South Sudan, 833 in Nigeria, and 75 in Myanmar.
  2. Twenty-one US states now ban sentences of life without parole for crimes committed by children, up from only five in 2012.
  3. The number of children detained in adult prisons in the US has dropped by more than 80 percent in the past 20 years.
  4. The number of children and adolescents who are out of school has dropped by 110 million since 2000.
  5. In 1979, only one country prohibited all corporal punishment of children: Sweden. Today, 54 do.
  6. AIDS-related deaths are expected to decline by 57 percent among children under 14 by 2030.
  7. Child marriage is on the decline. In the past decade, rates have dropped by 15 percent globally, and by one-third in South Asia.
  8. Rates of female genital mutilation have also fallen dramatically among girls in Africa since 1990. A 2018 fatwa in Somaliland forbids the practice.
  9. Eleven countries endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in 2018, bringing to 82 the number of countries that have pledged to protect students, teachers, and schools during war. The UN reports that military use of schools has dropped by one-third since 2014.
  10. Since 2000, the number of children in child labor globally fell by 94 million, a drop of more than one-third.

To be sure, millions of children continue to experience exploitation and abuse on a daily basis. But these successes show progress is possible. As we celebrate them, let’s also renew our commitment to advance the rights of children in 2019.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am